They say that necessity is the mother of invention. And the origins of synthetic rubber-like materials are no different. According to Mark Michalovic from the Chemical Heritage Foundation, “War was usually the catalyst for sparking interest in synthetic rubber[.] Mechanized warfare requires lots of rubber hoses, belts, gaskets, tires[.] In World War I, British naval blockades, however, kept Germany from getting natural rubber from Southeast Asia.” During the second World War, on the other side of the world, the United States was disconcerted by the growing influence that Japan had over Southeast Asia. This concern birthed the U.S. Rubber Reserve Company (RRC). The RCC was worried about diminishing rubber supplies—a worry which led chemists to search for a synthetic compound whose characteristics mirrored or closely resembled those of natural rubber. What they ultimately produced were rubber-like materials that, in some ways, offered greater advantages than natural rubber did.
Importantly, commercial floor mats made of synthetic rubbers aren’t “discount” rubber mats. Modern commercial mats and rubber floors actually benefit from utilizing these synthetic, rubber-like materials largely because their production methods have greatly improved since the World War II era. Understanding how your commercial mats and rubber floors are made and what benefits their materials offer will help you choose the right rubber mat. Suppliers intake commercial mats and rubber floors made from natural and rubber-like materials. Unlike natural rubber, synthetic rubber has no one chemical or physical composition—instead, synthetic rubber is a categorical term, marking out non-natural, rubber-like materials. As of now, there are over twenty different varieties of synthetic rubber. But all synthetic rubbers are derived from two compounds: styrene and butadiene. Both are byproducts of petroleum. Synthetic rubbers are made using different monomers, or simple molecules. These monomers are combined in varying amounts to produce different types of synthetic rubbers—all of which have different physical and chemical properties. Some examples of different synthetic rubbers are SBR, Nitrile, EPDM, and Neoprene.
When it comes to commercial mats and rubber flooring, there are two main synthetic compounds that are used in their production: styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR) and acrylonitrile-butadiene rubber (Nitrile). Each compound differs in its physical and chemical properties, making each of their ideal applications different. As we’ve noted, most synthetic commercial mats and rubber floors are made using SBR and Nitrile compounds, and SBR and Nitrile differ in their ideal applications. To better understand what each synthetic material has to offer, here is a breakdown of the two main materials used to make synthetic-rubber floor mats:
What is SBR rubber used for?
SBR, shorthand for styrene-butadiene rubber, is a copolymer. A copolymer is a molecular structure that is made up of two different types of molecules which are joined in the same polymer chain—in this case, styrene and butadiene. Generally, SBR commercial mats and rubber floors will have moderate resistance to oil and ozone. As well as being moderately resistant to oil and ozone, SBR has great abrasion-resistance and holds up well versus water. But, because SBR-material rubber is only moderately resistant to oil and ozone, commercial mats and rubber floors made of SBR shouldn’t be used for applications that call for severe oil- or ozone-resistance. Notably, SBR is one of the more inexpensive rubber-like materials, so many applications utilize SBR-material rubber. Now, this doesn’t mean that rubberized mats made of SBR are necessarily cheap rubber mats. It just means that SBR has a slight, pragmatic advantage over other types of rubber.
Rubber made of SBR is often used for applications like car parts, shoe soles, and roll coverings. Because these applications don’t call for maximal oil- or ozone-resistance, SBR is a good fit based on its generally cheaper price and its material properties. Rubber made of SBR is applied in many residential, commercial, and industrial settings.
What is Nitrile used for?
A commonly used compound in residential and commercial kitchen mats, acrylonitrile-butadiene rubber, or Nitrile, offers strong resistances to petroleum products, to animal grease, and to oils. Like SBR, Nitrile is also a copolymer that joins acrylonitrile and butadiene. Nitrile offers great tear and abrasion resistance, which makes it a great flooring option for heavy-duty environments. Because nitrile is only moderately resistant to ozone and to harsh weather, commercial mats and rubber flooring made of Nitrile is best suited for indoor applications.
These properties make Nitrile commercial mats and rubber floors an excellent fit for places like kitchens, where many harsh oils are in play. This rubber-like material’s strong oil-resistance keeps these commercial mats and rubber floors undamaged by the cooking oils that fly here and there while the burners are ablaze. And because water is essential to good cooking, kitchens are rife with water splashes and spillages. Commercial mats and rubber floors made of Nitrile are often perforated. So when they’re inevitably soaked with water, they won’t become the dangerous slip-and-fall hazards that are the stuff of archetypal liability cases. Furthermore, Nitrile natural resistance to the damaging effects of abrasion ensures that kitchen workers’ boots won’t quickly wear these commercial mats and rubber floors. While offering many safety advantages, Nitrile commercial mats and rubber floors are also made to withstand a wide range of physically and chemically tough conditions. But, because Nitrile is only moderately resistant to ozone and to harsh weather, a commercial mat made of Nitrile is best applied in indoor environments. Kitchens are just one of many potential applications of Nitrile commercial mats and rubber floors.
Most rubber matting material that has been chemically treated and produced, such as synthetic rubber, is applicable to many residential, commercial, and industrial settings. Even with moderate resistances to oil and ozone, these materials rubber can be made from are, in some ways, better than natural rubber. These rubber-like materials are often cheaper than natural rubber; they have many—if not all—of the material properties of rubber; and they expand rubber’s general applicability to a wider set of conditions.
Commercial Mats and Rubber Flooring - The Available Synthetic Options